National Fine Center:

Expectations High, but Development Behind Schedule

GGD-93-95: Published: Aug 10, 1993. Publicly Released: Sep 9, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the U.S. Courts National Fine Center's development and operations, focusing on: (1) how the Center should operate; (2) the status of the Center's operations and problems encountered in its five pilot districts; and (3) whether the Center will meet its original objectives.

GAO found that: (1) the Center is designed to collect and track convicted defendants' fines, special assessments, or restitution payments by creating debtor accounts at the time of sentencing; (2) although the Center is scheduled to be fully operational in all 94 judicial districts by 1995, only 1 out of 5 pilot districts has been integrated with the Center and full implementation will likely be delayed because of difficulties in reconciling existing debtor accounts and training staff; (3) the Center's automated disbursement system is not yet operational and the Center has not completed the software needed to integrate its automated systems with other federal agencies; (4) the Center's database was not in compliance with federal computer security legislation and was vulnerable to unauthorized access, fraud, and misuse because it did not have an adequate computer security plan; and (5) Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AOUSC) officials acknowledged that the project's direction and management needed reassessment and additional management controls were needed to alleviate possible security threats.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, should establish and implement a computer security program for the Center that meets the requirements of the Computer Security Act of 1987. AOUSC should ensure that a computer security plan is developed and implemented to provide security and privacy for the Center's computer security systems that are identified as sensitive systems.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Primarily as a result of the report, AOUSC discontinued development efforts of the National Fine Center at Raleigh, and concluded that the project would be too difficult and costly to expand to the remaining 93 judicial districts, mainly because of inadequately developed and documented computer software. In April 1994, AOUSC redirected its efforts to implementing NFC using an off-the-shelf system, and as of September 1995, 40 of the 94 districts were on the NFC system. However, because of congressional and DOJ concerns about the accomplishments and directions of NFC, the Director of AOUSC directed that an independent third party review the NFC. In May 1996, based on this review, and after consulting with congressional staff, DOJ officials and other stakeholders, AOUSC decided to transfer criminal debt processing and accounting back to the judicial districts and to initiate NFC shutdown actions. NFC will not be operational after December 1996.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, should establish and implement a computer security program for the Center that meets the requirements of the Computer Security Act of 1987. AOUSC should establish computer security training programs for Center and district employees to make them aware of federal and agency computer security requirements.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Primarily as a result of the report, AOUSC discontinued development efforts of the Raleigh Fine Center, and concluded that the project would be too difficult and costly to expand to the remaining 93 judicial districts, mainly because of inadequately developed and documented computer software. In April 1994, AOUSC redirected its efforts to implementing NFC using an off-the-shelf system, and as of September 1995, 40 of the 94 districts were on the NFC system. However, because of congressional and DOJ concerns about the accomplishments and directions of NFC, the Director of AOUSC directed that an independent third party review the NFC. In May 1996, based on this review, and after consulting with congressional staff, DOJ officials and other stakeholders, AOUSC decided to transfer criminal debt processing and accounting back to the judicial districts and to initiate NFC shutdown actions. NFC will not be operational after December 1996.

    Recommendation: The Director, AOUSC, should establish and implement a computer security program for the Center that meets the requirements of the Computer Security Act of 1987. AOUSC should ensure that risk analyses are conducted for both the Center's computer systems and the National Fine Center facility in Raleigh, North Carolina.

    Agency Affected: Administrative Office of the United States Courts

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Primarily as a result of the report, AOUSC discontinued development efforts of the Raleigh Fine Center, and concluded that the project would be too difficult and costly to expand to the remaining 93 judicial districts, mainly because of inadequately developed and documented computer software. In April 1994, AOUSC redirected its efforts to implementing NFC using an off-the-shelf system, and as of September 1995, 40 of the 94 districts were on the NFC system. However, because of congressional and DOJ concerns about the accomplishments and directions of NFC, the Director of AOUSC directed that an independent third party review the NFC. In May 1996, based on this review, and after consulting with congressional staff, DOJ officials and other stakeholders, AOUSC decided to transfer criminal debt processing and accounting back to the judicial districts and to initiate NFC shutdown actions. NFC will not be operational after December 1996.

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